What a PR disaster for a news anchor – to be found to have “misremembered” as he termed it, an event where he claimed to have been in a helicopter that was hit by a grenade in Iraq. Brian Williams, who is one of the faces of NBC’s Nightly News program has become the butt of a whole series of jokes since the revelation that what he had reported was not just grossly inaccurate, but never actually happened.
Of course, with anything like this there is a degree of hysteria in the attacks, but claiming to have gone through something like this is basically an insult to any veterans who genuinely experienced such incidents. Misremembered is not a word that really holds any water either – how do you get confused about whether you experienced a grenade hitting your chopper?
It’s not going to be easy to outrun the furor, and the lack of trust in his reporting skills that this has already caused. To be a good news anchor, as well as your skills in delivering news and reporting on events, you have to be credible. This problem is going to affect how people feel about anything he says, and if the network stands behind him it will affect their credibility too. the lack of fact-checking is also something that is going to be scrutinized – if NBC knew he was reporting falsely, or just failed to verify what he said, how does that do anything but reflect badly on their ability to report the news accurately.
So, what should they do with him? How should he handle himself? Well, the actor Benedict Cumberbatch, handled his blunder with grace and speed, but this is slightly different. Cumberbatch made a faux pas, but Williams, however he spins it, lied outright. Contrition is going to be a part of his rehabilitation, but he is also going to have to work at regaining the trust of those he betrayed. Williams might also have to just admit he lied rather than dressing it up in such equivocal and euphemistic language because that detracts from the apology and makes it seem insincere. Sincerity is the key when your dishonesty has been uncovered.
NBC might be better off, at least for the time being, leading with someone else as the main anchor, as a way to show that they disagree with his actions. It is not only Williams that needs to fix this, they do too, and if they fail to remedy the situation they are going to look as foolish as he does. Maintaining silence while everyone else is up in arms only works so far – a rebuttal or comment to save them from being associated with his actions, even more than they already are, just isn’t very smart in terms of Public Relations.